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Clay Luthy Resby Clay Luthy, Global Distributed Energy Resource Manager for IBM’s Energy & Utilities industry

In a recent IBM survey of automotive executives, 83 percent responded that their future product line would include electric vehicles. Further, there is a lot of talk and interest amongst consumers who are intrigued by the prospect of the reduced emissions, quiet ride, and decreased maintenance costs of electric vehicles. Following the market and seeing these statistics, it is apparent to me that ‘whether’ electric vehicles will become mainstream is no longer in question. Personally, I’m very excited about this prospect – so excited that I’m preparing and even had my garage wired for an electric vehicle charger.

Perhaps the more pressing question now is how do we prepare for the mass adoption of electric vehicles? I think installing public charging stations and ensuring that they provide an open and seamless experience for the user is a paramount first step.

Charge posts must be widely deployed and available for public use, much like gas stations, which are located in areas of high traffic. But unlike gas stations, you’ll likely pay for the refueling of your electric vehicle on a monthly statement such as the one you receive from your utility. This method is both more cost effective and efficient, but what happens when you travel to another city, state, or even another country? The challenge is much like cell phone roaming – when you roam, you will be using someone else’s network but pay your regular provider for that usage on your monthly bill.  What is needed for electric vehicles is a system that securely identifies you and your ‘home account’ when you plug in. After charging is complete, it settles your fee with your home account and the operator who sold you the electricity. All of this happens securely behind the scenes, making recharging your vehicle as simple as can be. This is a premise that we’re working on with projects across Europe – and I think it’s going to help pave the way for a seamless user experience for electric vehicle owners.

The second big challenge the industry is working on to prepare for electric vehicles is ensuring that the energy grid can handle the increased demands these vehicles will generate. Recharging an electric vehicle is comparable to the average peak load (kW) of an entire house. That means that if you and three of your neighbors came home from work and charged your vehicle at the same time it would be the equivalent of four new houses needing electricity. This is not an insignificant amount of additional electrical load, but the grid can handle it if we are smart about it.

Vehicles will typically be plugged in for long periods of time – like when you are at work or at home sleeping – but your electric vehicle will not need that full time in order to recharge. This extra time, combined with some very capable software, allows the electricity requirements of an electric vehicle to be balanced with the needs and constraints of the grid, fluctuating the charge rate to ensure the grid system is not overwhelmed. This is not only more grid friendly but allows electric vehicles to be the ideal consuming device for renewable energy, as we can increase and decrease charge rates in response to renewable energy availability.

Of course there will be times when you will want to ‘top off’ your battery while you are grocery shopping or going to a movie, and for those times you will have the ability to set your vehicle to begin charging immediately and continuously. This could all be done via a mobile application on your phone that puts you in complete control of how and when your vehicle is charged. This capability is possible, seen by a new pilot project led by IBM and Swiss electricity provider EKZ. The project includes a new Web-based application and data-recording device that will allow consumers to charge their electric vehicles, monitor battery levels and manage energy costs with a single click using a mobile phone application.

These are concepts that are not far off from mainstream, with consortiums such as the recently announced EcoGrid EU project, we are working to ensure that when electric vehicles become widely available, consumers, the industry – and more importantly the smart grid – is prepared.

Clay Luthy is the is the Global Distributed Energy Resource Manager for IBM’s Energy & Utilities industry and is focused on building a relevant ecosystem, defining corporate initiatives and determining IBM’s strategy across the Electric Vehicle Management, Demand Management, Distributed Generation, and Distributed Storage technology areas.

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Posted by: lisaedward
February 21, 2012
8:10 pm

I was very excited to read about the fact that every moving thing creates energy of some kind. Of course that is basic physics. But i am curious as to why that technology has not been adapted into the electric automobile. Even when i was a little kid we had those generators on the wheels of our bicycles to power headlights. There are electric trucks in mining operations that renew their feul source every time they move. It seems to me that a gen set on every wheel would not be a big hindrance to the operation of a vehicle and would eliminate the need to plug in every where the vehicle goes. Of course a strong and deep battery source would be advantagious as well. I am sure you have heard this before.

Posted by: terry ziegler
October 13, 2011
12:16 pm

Hi Clay, to have mass adoption in place and get a really disruptive effect in terms of cost per mile, you have not mentioned the main barriers for mass adoption, and that is convinience, cost and the need of a new business modell for the automotive industry. The business Model on which the automotive industry is build on. Electric cars are from a technology, assembly and maintenance perspective definitely far simpler and cheaper than our gasoline cars. The business model around the whole supply chain inclusive the car dealer network, will not work for electric cars. The create a tipping point around electric car adoption, the provider should focus on bringing out cars that are more convenient (charging isn’), costs less and are part of an integrated network. Remember the first ipad that came as an integrated (with iTines) solution and was more convient, higher prices were compensated with design. The same counts for new business models such as for example salesforce brought succesfully to the market, or amazon with their kindle. They all are integrated solutions and offer a more convenient usage. I agree that the problems you mentioned need to be solved, but from a provider perspective, solving these issues won’t be the trigger that leads to massadoption. And I did not even went into the issue of standardization… I’m not an expert in the automotive industry but I have been focussing on the adoption of electronic health records, and learned that the biggest barriers are not found within technology issues and the customers lack of interest. The question is how do we disrupt the existing business models.

Posted by: Bart de Witte
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December 19, 2012
10:46 am

[...] by technology breakthroughs, increasing oil prices and a raising environmental awareness, electric vehicles (EV) are moving into the center of interest for consumers, enterprises and governments. For [...]

Posted by: Leveling Another Speed Bump to Widespread Electric Vehicle Adoption « A Smarter Planet Blog
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